When Your Teen’s Mental Health Treatment isn’t Quite Working

As you might already know, treatment for mental health issues is highly personal. What works for one person might not work for someone else. Further, what works one year for your teen might not continue to work as he or she transitions from a child to an adult. As time goes by, it’s likely that your adolescent’s mental health care provider will want to change the mental health treatment plan. It’s also possible that you or your teen will want to try something new. It can be stressful and a bit overwhelming to find that a treatment plan is not working as intended. Here are some tips for parents on expanding your teen’s mental health treatment options and figuring out what works best.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get a Second Opinion

In any healthcare situation, it’s always your right as a patient (or as the guardian of a patient) to request and get a second opinion. Your teen’s therapist or doctor will not be insulted or offended; in fact, it might surprise you to know that doctors routinely look for the opinions of other professionals. Many times, health insurance will cover a second opinion.

If you do get two different opinions, talk them over with your teen. In the case of mental health, there are often several different treatment options for various conditions. Do you prefer a more conservative approach, or do you (and your teen) want to try something more aggressive? Many times, doctors will try a more conservative approach with teens who are not suicidal or experiencing severe mental health symptoms. If you think that your teen is experiencing severe symptoms, be sure to speak up. Ultimately, it will be up to you and your teenager which course to follow, and you need to be sure you’re both comfortable with it.

Medications May Need Some Tinkering

When medications are used to control depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other types of mental health conditions, it’s very common for there to be a period of trial and error. While your child’s doctor will do his or her best to choose the right medication, everyone reacts differently to these types of medicines, so the dosage and even the drugs themselves might need to be changed. In some cases, your teen might have to try several different types of medications before finding the one that works best.

Try not to get discouraged. Remember that your teen’s body chemistry is unique and that it’s important to find the medication that improves symptoms without causing troublesome side effects. Also keep in mind that sometimes a doctor will ask your teen to continue taking a drug even if there are some side effects; many times, these will wear off over time and your teen can continue taking the medication safely. Other times, the effects are more severe or don’t dissipate and the medication will have to be discontinued under the care of the physician.

Incorporating Lifestyle Changes into your Mental Health Treatment

One part of your teen’s mental health treatment that you might not be considering is that of lifestyle changes. During the teenage years, it’s very common for kids not to eat well, sleep enough, or get enough physical activity. While these types of lifestyle deficiencies are not generally going to cause a mental health condition, they can definitely exacerbate the situation. Part of expanding your teen’s mental health treatment options can be to get together with a nutritionist or a sleep specialist to help your child get the nutrition, exercise, and sleep that he or she needs to begin feeling better.

While it’s important to understand that having a healthy lifestyle is not a substitution for proper mental health care, it’s interesting to note that exercise  has been shown to lessen the impact of both anxiety and depression. If your teen is struggling with mild forms of these conditions, talk to his or her doctor or mental health specialist to find out whether incorporating exercise into your teen’s daily routine could lessen or eliminate the need for medication. Do not stop any medication without the doctor’s specific advice, because stopping suddenly or weaning off of it incorrectly could cause severe side effects.

Are Alternative Therapies Worth Trying?

If you have done research on your teen’s mental health condition, you might be wondering whether alternative or complementary treatments are something you should consider. Some examples of these kinds of treatments include:

  • yoga
  • meditation
  • various supplements

Your child’s mental health specialist might suggest some of them. Or you might find information on them online or get the information from a nutritionist, holistic doctor, or other practitioner.

It’s extremely important that you tell every healthcare practitioner who sees your teen which medications and supplements he or she is taking. This is because although supplements are sold over the counter, they can react with other supplements as well as with both prescribed and over-the-counter medications. Never start any type of vitamin, herb, or supplement without talking to your teen’s doctor first.

Trying therapies like yoga and mindfulness is up to you and your teen. They do not cause any harm or side effects, and they can’t interact with medications. They might or might not help. Your teen’s specialist should know about any type of counseling or therapy he or she is receiving, so if you want to try a different type of therapy, let the doctor know. Some types of counseling or therapies can be detrimental, particularly if they are at odds with the treatment plan that your teen is currently following.

The most important thing that you can do as a parent to expand your teen’s mental health treatment options is to foster a good patient-practitioner relationship. Because your teenager will be in charge of his or her own mental health care in just a few short years (or sooner), it’s important that they know how to advocate for their own needs. Encourage your teen to talk to his or her practitioner about concerns, questions, and any changes they’d like to make in the treatment plan. By working closely with the mental health care team, your teen will be empowered to get the treatment that he or she needs and wants.

Further Reading